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November 21st, 2009

Thanksgiving is coming …tra la, tra la! Excitement is high for delicious food, fires in the fireplace, people sharing homemade recipes, drinks, and most of all, fond feelings with family and friends. Sounds great!

We all know what Thanksgiving “should be like” from storybooks, movies, and perfect Ozzie and Harriet TV families. People like to tell their sugarcoated stories. Those of us in stepcouples and stepfamilies are constantly lusting and wondering how we can get there. Sadly we work so hard to achieve the picture perfect Thanksgiving…whatever that is!

The problem is we try too hard. We set ourselves up for a meltdown, or at least some sort of disappointment. You can be sure that someone’s going to be misunderstood, get hurt feelings, act badly, get into a fight…whatever. It happens and somehow we recover.

I remember one Thanksgiving when I tried particularly hard because I had invited another family to join us. I wanted it to be fabulous! The breakdown (aka meltdown) occurred over my dessert. My stepdaughter and I were working together in the kitchen. We disagreed on how to prepare some of the ingredients for the fancy French dessert I had planned. (Note: PERFECT SET UP with high expectations ripe for failure and disappointment!) My stepdaughter and I argued about how to prepare the meringue, slice the fruit, or something stupid like that. We both were stubborn …and still are. She stormed out of the house and was gone for hours. I felt horrible. I was so NOT into that dumb dessert after that. I was angry with her and angry with myself for not handling the situation better.

Much later on, I was able to step back and look at why this happened. First I set myself up for stress I didn’t need. Wouldn’t we have been better off with ice cream sundaes? Wouldn’t I have been better off if I’d been able to calm myself down and handle the situation better. I was too stuck on the perfect Thanksgiving idea, which for me meant serving a fancy French dessert… Thank heavens, I know better now.

Some tips for stepcouples and stepfamilies to refer to if and when you get into rough terrain over the holidays-

1. Lighten up. Know your limits and accept them. Keep it manageable.

2. When conflict occurs, step back, breathe, think, and reflect on your words before spouting your mouth. Don’t react prematurely. Try to understand the other person’s thoughts and vulnerabilities as well as your own.

3. Get help! Go to your partner, a relative or friend who understands you. Hopefully that person can listen, hear you and help you calm down.


Best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving.

Susan Wisdom
Licensed Professional Counselor
November 2009


November 5th, 2009

One day I went to the mailbox and saw a letter from my stepson addressed to me…written on yellow legal paper in his handwriting. I ripped it open and read this letter that brought tears to my eyes. I’ll never forget it.


“I found myself thinking about you and how you’ve played a part in my life I can’t remember if I’ve ever shown you any appreciation for raising me. I guess I’ve left that up to your intuition. However, it probably wouldn’t hurt if I sent a little thanks your way.

I think back in my life and it occurs to me that you are the most consistent figure in my growing up. Consistency is important to me. You were there. You didn’t run away. I’m sorry I didn’t take advantage of it. I guess I didn’t trust anyone enough to let them close to me.

It’s your model of consistency that I’m building on now. I’m not saying that I agreed with or liked the way you reacted to every situation, but you were consistently there to deal with everything with the same caring.

I didn’t mean for this letter to conjure up ill feelings of my childhood or for you to bear that burden. I hoped it would free you of any feeling of failure. You didn’t fail. You did a heck of a job even with the bad stuff we threw in your face. You never gave up. Kind of like a pit bull with its jaws locked on its fiercest prey, and if there’s any quality about myself that I can attribute to you, it is that.

Somewhere between your caring and consistency, my father’s ability to rationally deal with things and my mother’s imagination is the person I try to be – in that order. I hope you share this letter with my father. There am so much of me that is like him and so much of him that I strive to be.



In stepfamilies, you wait for the rewards for a long time… and smile deeply when they come.

Excerpt from book, Stepcoupling, Creating and Sustaining a Strong Marriage in Today’s Blended Family, Three Rivers Press, New York and Page 237.

Susan Wisdom
Licensed Professional Counselor
November 2009

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